Saturday, July 07, 2007

Gandhi on music & art

Mahadev Desai joined Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 and remained with him till Desai's death in 1942. I came upon a very interesting account, in Mahadev Desai's diary, of a discussion between Mahatma Gandhi and Dilip Kumar Roy, in the end of January 1924. I reproduce that below.

Dilip, son of the well-known dramatist of Bengal, Dwijendralal Roy, visited Gandhi one evening. He had already earned abroad the reputation of a distinguished Indian singer. He had come in the morning and promised to return in the evening to sing some hymns to Bapu.

It was about 8 p.m. when he came. Dilip had brought his sitar. A good number of listeners had collected in the room. Sitting on a sofa opposite to Gandhiji's bed he began singing a song of hymn to Krishna.

"O Lord! O Hari! Gopal! my Love!
Call me I pray to Thee above …

The moving sentiment in the hymn, the charming voice of the
singer and the listners' receptive mood filled the place for a while
with the earnest loving entreaty made in the song. Everyone was, as
it were, wafted to that blissful place and humming the following
lines :

"Of hunger, thirst, I won't complain.
Content with fruit I will remain".

But even before vibrations of that son had died in our ears, the friend began the well-known song of Meerabai, Chakar rakhoji, which thrills with the same ethereal air:

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"Make me Thy servant - the last stain efface
Of selfhood; be my life an offering
In song's own bliss and bloom's own loveliness.
For beauty holds a mirror to Thee, O King,
Of Beauty's ultimate home - Thy Brindaban!
Whose glory in her bowers will I sing.
And accost Thee daily in Thy golden dawn
In every flower, every purlingst realm
In changing forms deciphering the One.
Here, in Thy happy hunt, where dreamers dream
And Yogis strive through Yoga Thee to meet
And all who visit hail Thy summit gleam,
Thy Meera treads but one way Thee to greet:
She prays: "Besiege my heart at midnight hush
And on banks of Love's blue rill Thy dance repeat."

All of us felt as if we ourselves were 'dancing on Love's blue rill' - that was the effect the performance produced. Profound silence prevailed for a while. Dilip then touched a topic and raised a dialogue.

"I feel, Mahatmaji", he said, "that our beautiful music has been sadly neglected in our schools and colleges."

"It has - unfortunately", Bapu agreed, "I have always said so."

"I am very glad to hear this, Mahatmaji, because, to be frank, I was under the impression that art has no place in the gospel of your austere life. I had often pictured you as a dread saint who was positively against music."

"Against music - I"! exclaimed Mahatmaji, as though stung. "Well, I know, I know," he added resignedly, "there are so many superstitions rife about me that it has now become almost impossible for me to overtake those who have been spreading them. As a result, my friends' only reaction is almost invariably a smile when I claim I am an artist myself."

"I feel so relieved, Mahatmaji" I laughed, "but may not your asceticism be somewhat responsible for such popular misconceptions? The people would find it difficult to reconcile asceticism with art".

"But I do maintain that asceticism is the greatest of all arts. And to think that I should be dubbed an enemy to an art like music because I favour asceticism! I, who cannot even conceive of the evolution of India's religious life without her music! But, indeed, I fail to see anything in much that passes for art in these days. What is needed for the appreciation of any art is to have the heart for it, not any ntimate knowledge of technique or training. Why must my walls be overlaid with pictures, for instance, when they are meant only for sheltering us? I do not need pictures. Nature suffices for my inspiration. Have I not gazed and gazed at the marvellous mystery of the starry vault, hardly ever tiring of that great panorama? Could one conceive of any painting comparable in inspiration to that of the star-tudded sky, the majestic sea, the noble mountains? Beside God's handiwork does not man's fade into insignificance?'

Dilip agreed: "Yes, what man in his senses will claim that the artist's handiwork is even greater than life's?"

Bapu then rushed on and changing the Gita's aphorism, "Yoga is skill in action", he said in effect that skill in action was itself the highest art. "Life must immensely exceed all the arts put together. To me the greatest artist is surely he who lives the finest life. For what is this hot-house art-plant of yours without the life-soul and background of a steady worthy life? What after all does that art amount to which ll the time stultifies life instead of elevating it? No. Art has a place in life, but art is not life. Life, on the contrary, is Art. Art should be subservient to life. It should act as its handmaid, not master. It should be alive to life and the universe."

Source: Mahadev Desai's diary. For resources on Gandhi, visit here. Example, Gandhi on Google Video.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful, what a beatiful and telling dialogue, and lovely lyrics also. Thank you so much, dear Brother Rama :)

Anonymous said...

great post. thought you might be interested in this site About MIRABAI. the site is dedicated to presenting the life, bhajans, poetry, and spiritual teachings of the saint, regarded as Love Incarnate. There's also a section there about gandhi's thoughts on mirabai's bhajans.

Unknown said...

What page is this on in his diary? I'm doing research and I can't seem to find it in the index